Home  |  What's New  |  Ragtime Sources

 
 

 

Female Composers of Ragtime

Featuring Hoosier Rag (1907) by Julia Lee Niebergall and other Rags Written by Women

 

By Ted Tjaden

(originally published June 2006 and updated periodically)
(note: updates have been relatively minor; check the bibliography below for
researchers who have continued research on women composers of ragtime)

 

 

There is a wonderful body of work of piano ragtime music composed by women. This body of work, however, tends to garner less visibility than the more well known "Big Three" ragtime composers (who happen to be male), Scott Joplin, James Scott and Joseph Lamb. Fortunately, a number of ragtime enthusiasts continue to research the role of women in ragtime composition. The goal of this essay is to provide access to the compositions and sheet music of female composers of ragtime. Included in this essay is a list of 877 rags or ragtime-era compositions by women, with close to two-thirds of these compositions being available online for free (545 compositions) or for purchase (30 compositions) and close to one-third (302 compositions) not being online (with most of those having no known source).

Information is provided on the following topics:

1)  Introduction to female composers of ragtime
2)  Profiles of important female ragtime composers
3)  Sheet music for ragtime-era music composed by women:

By surname:   A-F, G-L, M-R, S-Z

4)  Commercial recordings of ragtime-era music composed by women
5)  Bibliography

 

1)  Introduction to female composers of ragtime [top]

Although ragtime music often conjures up a "male world" of a piano player banging out tunes in a smoke-filled saloon of men gambling, it is likely fair to suggest that women were prime consumers of ragtime-era sheet music and that women composers played a larger role than many might assume. In particular, Indiana and the American mid-West tended to produce a disproportionately large number of female composers of ragtime music. Max Morath is rightfully given credit during the ragtime revival for focusing attention on the role of female composers of rags (see his article on ragtime women). More recently, Perfessor Bill Edwards has an online article devoted to female ragtime composers and ragtimer Nora Hulse (archive site) has recorded and published a large number of rare and interesting rags by women. Nan Bostick, also discussed below, was heavily involved in research on women composers of ragtime).

Although many female composers of rags wrote only a single rag, either as a hobby, a puff piece or because of their personal circumstances (for example, a number of female composers appeared to stop composing after getting married), there are a number of female composers of rags who were quite prolific. Some composers (and entertainers), such as May Irwin, in fact became quite wealthy as a result of their work.

Some of the more well known or prolific female composers of rags are set out below alphabetically by surname, with the number of compositions included in my lists indicated in parentheses (realize of course that my lists are not exhaustive or complete; some researchers suggest that Sadie Koninsky, for example, composed hundreds of compositions; for now, I have been only able to confirm 38 of them):

** Note: See here for information suggesting Maria Louka was a pseudonym for Johann C Schmid.

My lists of female composers of rags in section 3 below are broad and inclusive and include female composers of not only "pure" rags but also composers of marches, waltzes and other ragtime-era compositions; as such, I include on my lists a number of female composers that do not appear on standard lists of female ragtime composers.

 

2)  Profiles of important female ragtime composers [top]

I had initially planned in this essay to provide summaries of the lives of some of the major female composers of ragtime music. However, in conducting my research, I felt that sufficient work was being done by others in this area that I could instead focus on providing access to the sheet music of rags composed by women. Some of the resources useful for finding out more information on women composers of ragtime include but are not limited to the following:

  • Adams, Elliott. "N Weldon Cocroft: Ragtime Pioneer" (May 1994) Rag Times 1.
  • Hulse, Nora & Nan Bostick. "Ragtime's Women Composers: An Annotated Lexicon" (2002) 3 Ragtime Ephemeralist: 106-35 (archived excerpt of article available here from the Internet Archive).
  • Jasen, David & Gene Jones. That American Rag: The Story of Ragtime from Coast to Coast. New York: Schirmer Books, 2000.
  • "Nellie Cocroft" (click here for a short online biography, as archived by the Internet Archive).
  • Zimmerman, Richard. "Sadie Koninsky: Ragtime's First Important Female Composer" (July 2000) Rag Times 1.

A challenge in researching female composers of rags is that a number of rags have been published where the composer's given/first name is set out only in initials, and it is therefore not always easy to identify the gender of the composer (in fact, because of the different social conditions in the ragtime era, many female composers may have felt obliged to hide their gender by using initials).

Although I didn't use the following databases in compiling my list of ragtime compositions by women, other researchers may find the database useful. It is a searchable database created by Christopher Reynolds (University of California, Davis) and is entitled "Women Song Composers: A Listing of Songs Published in the United States and England, ca 1890-1930." The database contains 5,116 compositions and can be accessed here.

There are a number of contemporary female ragtime personalities who are (or were) active in composing,  performing, or recording ragtime:

  • Nan Bostick: Nan, who passed away from lung cancer on March 26, 2012, had strong roots in the ragtime field that date back to her great uncle, ragtime composer Charles Daniels (who also used the pseudonym Neil Moret). Nan recorded a ragtime CD with her partner, Tom Brier, who is also a well-known ragtime entertainer.
  • Nora Hulse (archived website): Nora, a retired music professor from Central Methodist College, immersed her self in ragtime research and performances. She recorded a number of CDs and published folios of rags composed by women and was a regular performer at various ragtime festivals. Sadly, she passed away July 24, 2020, at the age of 88.
  • Larisa Migachyov: Larisa is a Russian-born composer and ragtime composer (and patent attorney). In addition to performing at major ragtime festivals, she has also composed a number of rags and sells CDs of her own playing.
  • Virginia Tichenor: Virginia is another ragtime pianist and daughter of well-known ragtimer Trebor Tichenor. She has recorded a ragtime CD called "Virginia's Favorites" (Stomp Off Records).

3)  Sheet music for ragtime-era music composed by women [top]

There are currently over 860 ragtime or ragtime-era compositions by female composers listed on this site, with close to half of the titles containing (free) links to the sheet music for those compositions. Due to the large number of entries in my lists, I was obliged to divide the lists into four separate pages by composer surname to keep the lengths of each page to a reasonable limit. I compiled these lists of compositions of rags by women using the following sources:

  • Nora Hulse & Nan Bostick, "Ragtime's Women Composers: An Annotated Lexicon" (2002) 3 Ragtime Ephemeralist: 106-35 (archived excerpt of article available here from the Internet Archive).

  • Richard Zimmerman, "Sadie Koninsky: Ragtime's First Important Female Composer" (July 2000) Rag Times 1.
  • Various online library catalogues

  • My own collection

Where the sheet music is in the public domain and available online, I provide links to the sheet music and cover for the composition. Where the sheet music is not available online, I indicate in parentheses the print source for the sheet music or the source where the composition is mentioned.

The list of rags composed by women (and the links to sheet music, where available) can be accessed as follows, by surname:

4)  Commercial recordings of ragtime-era music composed by women [top]

Max Morath was one of the early ragtime pioneers to feature recordings of rags composed by women with his 1977 Vanguard Records album entitled The Ragtime Women which contains the following compositions:

1.    Red Rambler Rag (Juila Niebergall)
2.    Hoosier Rag (Juila Niebergall)
3.    Piffle Rag (Gladys Yelvington)
4.    Rooster Rag (Muriel Pollock)
5.    The Thriller (May Aufderheide)
6.    That Sentimental Rag (Mabel Tilton)
7.    Poker Rag (Charlotte Blake)
8.    Romantic Rag (Kathy Craig)
9.    X-N-Tric-Two-Step Characterisitc (Louise V. Gustin)
10.  Pickles And Peppers, A Rag Oddity (Adeline Shepherd)

Nora Hulse, in addition to recently authoring the excellent article with Nan Bostick on female ragtime composers, has recorded a number of CDs and produced folios of ragtime sheet music of rags composed by women. Her CDs include:

In addition, Nan Bostick recorded a CD with Tom Brier entitled Missing You at the McCoys that contains a number of rags composed by women.

5)  Bibliography   [top]

Set out below is a fairly complete list of books and articles that discuss the role of women in ragtime music.

  • Adams, Elliott. "N. Weldon Cocroft: Ragtime Pioneer – The Story of CoCroft Music Company" (May 1994) 28:1 The Rag Times 1.
  • Block, Adrienne Fried (assisted by Nancy Stewart). "Women in American Music, 1800-1918" at 142 in Karen Pendle, ed, Women and Music: A History. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991.
  • Borroff, Edith. "An American Parlor at the Turn of the Century." (1986) 4:3 American Music 302-308.
  • Glickman, Sylvia & Martha Furman Schleifer, eds. Women Composers: Music Through the Ages. Vol 6, "May Francis Aufderheide" by Carolynn Lindeman. New York: GK Hall & Co, 1999.
  • Hulse, Nora. "Nora Hulse: Ragtime Pianist Specializing in Rags by Women Composers." Available online: <http://www.nora.hulse.com> [archived version of website].
  • Hulse, Nora & Nan Bostick. "Ragtime's Women Composers: An Annotated Lexicon." (2002) 3 Ragtime Ephemeralist: 106-35.  Archived excerpt of article available here from the Internet Archive.
  • Hulse, Nora, ed. Cake Walks, Two Steps and Rags by Women Composers (1899-1920). Columbia, MO: Nora Hulse, 2001.
  • Hulse, Nora, ed. Ragtime Refreshments: 25 Rags by Women Composers. Lake Ozark, MO: Nora Hulse, 2003.
  • Jasen, David & Gene Jones. Black Bottom Stomp: Eight Masters of Ragtime and Early Jazz. New York: Routledge, 2001 [Internet Archive version].
  • Jasen, David & Gene Jones. Spreadin' Rhythm Around: Black Popular Songwriters, 1890-1920. New York: Schirmer Books, 1998 [Internet Archive version].
  • Jasen, David & Gene Jones. That American Rag: The Story of Ragtime from Coast to Coast. New York: Schirmer Books, 2000 [Internet Archive version].
  • Jasen, David & Trebor Jay Tichenor. Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History. New York: Dover Publication, 1989 [Internet Archive version].
  • Lindeman, Carolynn, ed. Women Composers of Ragtime: A Collection of Six Selected Rags by Women Composers. Bryn Mawr, PA: Theodore Presser Company, 1985.
  • Lindeman, CA. "Women in Rags" (1985) 5:4 Keyboards Classic.
  • Morath, Max. "May Aufderheide and the Ragtime Women" in John Edward Hesse, ed, Ragtime: Its History, Composers and Music. New York: Schirmer, 1985.
    [Internet Archive version]
  • Morath, Max & John Edward Hasse. "Ragtime Compositions by Women" in John Edward Hasse, ed, Ragtime: Its History, Composers and Music. New York: Schirmer, 1985 at 368-75 [Internet Archive version].
  • Pilkington, Laura Ann. "Three Ragtime Women in Socio-Historical Context: The Lives, Times and Music of May Aufderheide, Julia Lee Niebergall and Adaline Shepherd" (MA Thesis 2000, University of Oregon).
  • Schafer, William & Johannes Riedel. The Art of Ragtime: From and Meaning of an Original Black American Art. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973 [Internet Archive version].
  • Tawa, Nicholas. Sweet Songs for Gentle Americans: The Parlor Song in America, 1790-1860. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1980.
  • Zimmerman, Richard. 101 Rare Rags, 2nd ed. Grass Valley, CA: Richard Zimmerman, 1995.
  • Zimmerman, Richard. First Ladies of Hoosier Ragtime. Grass Valley, CA: Richard Zimmerman, 1990.
  • Zimmerman, Richard. Gems of Texas Ragtime. Grass Valley, CA: The American Ragtime Company, 1996.
  • Zimmerman, Richard. "Sadie Koninsky: Ragtime's First Important Female Composer" (July 2000) 34:2 Rag Times 1.

 

[top]

 
   

Creative Commons License  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

This site created by Ted Tjaden. Page last updated: February 2021.